Welcome To The Dollhouse

This film is not for the emotionally faint-hearted. If you’re looking for a predictable story that offers hope at the end of the tunnel or even a rainbow after a devastating storm…

…this is not it.

For those of you of the dark and twisty variety, a bit askew of the norm, voyeurs who can empathize and pity the misfit tweenage girl stuck in the ruthless world of junior high cliques and indifferent adults, this movie is priceless.

The bullying aspects alone would prevent this film from being made today.

Todd Solondz brilliantly captures a triple threat of mediocre injustice with a glimpse in the life of Dawn Wiener: a middle class, middle child attending middle school. The ultimate ugly duckling, with little hope of becoming a swan.

Set in an era long before the thought police took over the media, this coming-of-age black comedy offers a raw look inside the world of an unattractive twelve-year-old girl from New Jersey. Complete with an oddly compelling soundtrack that spans across a wide range of genres, (most notably, tracks featuring Daniel Rey’s sultry singing) Welcome to the Dollhouse is an original and honest telling of a bully victim with no support system.

Most viewers cannot identify with Dawn. She is unpopular, unattractive, and unremarkable in nearly every way. She’s the opposite of the epic hero as rather than one or two fatal flaws, she possesses two strengths – terrific hair (hidden in ponytails) and a good singing voice – neither of which play much part in the story.

I’ll spare you the details on how she injures her hand.

Heather Matarazzo offers a perfect portrayal of this awkward, ugly girl. She throws herself into the role, channeling her inner misfit in the way she stands, the way she whines, and most dreadfully, the way she dresses.

Maybe she’d be bearable if she could remember to close her mouth.

And rather than attempt some sort of statement about the dangers of isolation or bullying,  Solondz makes us laugh, creating the type of guilty pleasure that allows us to enjoy this poor girl’s misfortunes, while making it clear that he understands her pain, and helping us to do the same.

Part of what makes this film stand out is its success in creating a protagonist that the audience roots for, yet doesn’t actually like. You feel sorry for her, but in truth, none of us would have befriended Wienerdog in junior high. Anyone who would, either has a heart of gold, or they belong in Dawn’s Special People club.

And if you’re wondering if Ms. Matarazzo ever grew out of her Dawn phase…

I’d say so.

What do you think? Were you able to enjoy the dark humor in this movie? What similar comedies can you recommend? Message me or put it in the comments below.


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